With Brown-headed Nuthatch ticked off my life list I was excited to get out and about and see my life Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  Nate arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house just a couple of minutes after my sighting and we were off to Southern Pines, North Carolina, home of the Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve, the destination that Nate had guaranteed would not only have Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, but woodpeckers that would provide positively crippling views.  En route I was suckered into being an accessory to Nate’s county-listing obsession and was forced to write down each and every species we saw in each and every county.  Of course, this paid off later when Nate shared all of those lists on eBird and I suddenly vaulted, for example, to number three all-time in Lee County with eleven species.

Anyway, once we arrived I was pleased to discover that Weymouth Woods is a charming preserve with a quality interpretive center, active bird feeders, and well-maintained trails.  We quickly started exploring those trails but failed to come up with the woodpeckers we sought, at least not immediately.  Nate tried to placate me by pointing out one of the “white-eyed” subspecies of Eastern Towhee,* and, while I was momentarily impressed, especially when a regular “red-eyed” Eastern Towhee appeared next to the white-eyed one, the towhees were no replacement for my life woodpecker.

Of course, while we were looking for the woodpecker we constantly came across other birds, including Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Pileated Woodpecker, and a bunch of other species.  I was most impressed by another woodpecker, a Red-headed Woodpecker, that we rarely see in New York but that is relatively common in the south.  Though the light was not the best I managed what I think is a pretty impressive shot.

It was not long after the Red-headed Woodpecker encounter that I heard a call note unlike any I had ever heard before.  Nate heard it too, and it wasn’t long before he spotted the source of the call, which was, probably not surprisingly to those who already read Nate’s description of our day, a Red-cockaded Woodpecker!

I drank it, digiscoped the heck out of it (I still can’t figure out why the Red-headed Woodpecker shots, for which I had much worse light, came out better), and just in general appreciated the sight of a new-for-me woodpecker.  Picoides borealis is an endangered bird and I hope that it manages to hold on and survive for many millions more years.

After our woodpecker encounter we continued birding the rest of the day, mostly doing more county listing, and seeing some good birds like Bald Eagle, Hooded Merganser, Belted Kingfisher, a huge flock of Chipping Sparrows, Bonaparte’s Gull, and a whole big bunch of other stuff but it was all anticlimactic after the lifer was done.  We did try, to some degree, for Bachmann’s Sparrow, but it was unlikely to begin with and there were lots of other birds to distract us, including more Red-cockaded Woodpeckers like the one above.

Altogether it was a great trip to North Carolina and I would be happy to visit again but hopefully in spring when more birds are around and the temperatures aren’t as cold as winter in New York!

*The “white-eyed” subspecies of Eastern Towhee pictured here, one of two white-eyed subspecies is Pipilo erythrophthalmus rileyi while the “red-eyed” subspecies that we spotted, one of two “red-eyed” subspecies of Eastern Towhee is the nominate, P. e. erythrophthalmus.

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.